In the first half of last year, over 270 Peer Advisors were employed across St Giles Trust’s services – both prison and community-based – and 254 people embarked on Peer Advisor training. The Peer Advisor Programme uses a powerful mix of ‘lived experience’ with professional skills gained through the Level 3 Information, Advice and Guidance qualification. Help with employment is a crucial element of this work and we are very grateful to City & Guilds Group for supporting this area of the Peer Advisor Programme. Read here about some of the individuals* whose experiences working as Peer Advisors helped them move forward to independence and paid work.
After a ten year prison sentence, Alex was keen to give something back. Given his own experiences he was particularly interested in helping people who had a history of substance misuse. He started volunteering with St Giles Trust on a project helping ex-offenders boost their confidence and skills to obtain employment. Whilst undertaking his volunteering, he worked towards training as a Peer Advisor under the Level 3 in Information, Advice and Guidance qualification. During this time, he attended many employment-related workshops such as CV writing, disclosure and interview skills. He was able to share the knowledge he gained from these with the clients he helped in his volunteering role whilst also applying it to his own situation. Alex’s confidence in his own abilities grew and he successfully applied for a job as a Support Worker with a charity.
When Connie came to St Giles Trust, her levels of confidence and self-esteem were extremely low. She had received a community sentence shortly after graduating from university and believed she had lost her chance of ever gaining a job. Her caseworker helped her slowly rebuild her confidence and set some goals. We helped Connie understand criminal disclosure and how to discuss her offence with potential employers. Connie embarked on training as a Peer Advisor under the Level 3 Information, Advice and Guidance qualification and started volunteering at St Giles Trust. She used these skills to help other ex-offenders get back into work and her levels of confidence and knowledge grew alongside her experience. Connie successfully applied for a caseworker role and is now helping people overcome barriers such as homelessness and bad housing, substance misuse and unemployment. She is enjoying giving back through helping others and feels her future looks a lot brighter.
Gary works in the Yorkshire Team helping other service users increase their employability and motivation to get back into employment. This is his first time doing this type of work but he found pleasure in helping others to gain skills and prepare for work whilst gaining valuable experience as a volunteer with a substance misuse provider in Leeds. He assisted in the delivery of workshops which included topics such as communication skills, conflict resolution, preparing for work and interview techniques. He has been able to support other service users from a wide range of backgrounds to overcome a variety of personal difficulties.
As a result of Gary’s support, some have been able to find paid employment for the first time in several years.
During her prison sentence, Dawn trained as a Peer Advisor and completed the Level 3 in Information, Advice and Guidance. She realised that she enjoyed supporting others and she worked advising other prisoners on housing, education and training options. She gained a wide range of experience and then completed the Level 4 in Advice and Guidance, becoming a Senior Peer Advisor and responsible for supervising other Peer Advisors and facilitating group sessions. When Dawn became eligible for day release from prison, she volunteered with St Giles Trust. Initially, she volunteered on Peer Assist offering confidential online and over the phone support to those in need and then progressed to volunteer with the Footsteps project supporting vulnerable women prison leavers affected by mental health issues. Dawn was keen to find paid work on her release. Her volunteering had given her experience in supporting clients with employment needs. When a vacancy for a caseworker in the Employment Team arose she did not believe she had enough experience to apply. However, with encouragement she submitted an application and was offered the job.
Carl is currently working as a St Giles Trust Peer Advisor whilst serving a sentence in an open prison. His role focusses on providing employment support to other prisoners to help maximise their chances of securing a job on release. This involves delivering employment workshops to groups of prisoners and working on a one-to-one basis to help individuals create a good CV and understand how to disclose a conviction to a potential employer. Carl says that working as a Peer Advisor has helped him empathise with other people whilst being productive and gaining valuable employment experience. Coupled with his Level 3 in Information, Advice and Guidance qualification, he is now a lot more optimistic about his future and feels that he has a real chance of securing employment on release from prison himself.
Barry works as a Peer Advisor in prison helping other prisoners with their employment needs. Typically, they work in a day job in one of the prison departments. But like many prison-based Peer Advisors, Barry also offers extra help out of goodwill as he is a trusted point of contact and approached at all hours on the wings. His advice and guidance covers a wide range of areas related to employment. Help with CVs and applications takes up much of the role alongside helping people with financial issues such as pay and tax. He has advised prisoners on business ideas and helped them to create business plans, encouraging and inspiring ideas. Barry has also worked with the prison staff to help them identify individuals who might be suitable for vacancies within the prison that management were struggling to fill. The flexibility and accessibility of Peer Advisors means they can reach many prisoners offering advice which is tailored to the needs of each individual. Barry continues to work in the prison to help others get the help they need whilst also further developing his own skills.
*Names have been changed